Jenny Odell wrote that her inspiration for “How to Do Nothing” was “grounded in a particular location, and that is the Morcom Amphitheater of Roses in Oakland, California.” Odell’s countless hours observing birds and other wildlife in this quiet neighborhood park led to the creation of her new book, which The New Yorker praised for “elegantly aligning the crisis in our natural world and the crisis in our minds.”
For the first episode of East Bay Yesterday recorded in front of a live audience, I interviewed Jenny about how she challenges the “placelessness” that’s becoming ever more ubiquitous in our digital world. Honoring the book’s theme of “reconnecting with the world around us,” we discuss Chapel of the Chimes, the joys of AC Transit, Oakland’s oldest tree, and much more. [Big thank you to EM. Wolfman Bookstore for hosting and Katie McMurran for recording this conversation.]
One of the reasons why Jenny’s book resonated so strongly with me is because I’m often happiest when I’m “doing nothing.” Over the years, I’ve spent countless days simply wandering the streets and trails of Oakland with no particular destination in mind. During these long walks or bike rides, I’ll occasionally pull out my phone to jot down an observation or snap a quick picture. Although gathering these notes and images isn’t “productive” in any quantifiable sense, looking back on them makes me realize that I never would have started East Bay Yesterday if I hadn’t spent so much time guided by nothing but curiosity and a desire to be outside.
In “How to Do Nothing,” Jenny emphasizes the importance of “looking at reality, rather than through it.” In keeping with the spirit of this sentiment, I’ve decided to share some photos of things that have captured my attention while out on random strolls throughout Oakland. At first, I was going to add captions, but sometimes it’s best to let the mind wander, so I’ll let the images speak for themselves…
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